Rosa woodsii and Rosa foetida persiana (among the hundreds of species, and the thousands of individual hybrids and cultivars)
Rose Etta Mae Peterson Mowell (February 27, 1895 – February 9, 1988)
Shirley Illene Mowell Lassiter (September 11, 1929 – November 19, 2007)
Big Horn County, Wyoming – July, 1985. Several years have passed since my last hometown visit, and Mom is taking me to call on my grandmother. She forewarns; first as we drive the five country miles to the “Old Folks’ Home”, and again as we walk the antiseptic hallway to Grandma Rose’s room. But the creature I see propped in the bed rattles me. It is rail thin, wide-eyed but unfocused, bushy-haired. This is not the tidy Baptist grandmother of my memory.
“Everett!” this banshee exclaims.
“It’s Jackson,” Mom corrects her, matter-of-factly, and continues in the same breath to me, “she hasn’t slept in weeks. She would feel better if she slept.”
My mother makes this trek twice a day; my grandmother refuses to eat for anyone else. By the time it is over, Mom will have done so for fifteen years. Today she wears the weariness of motherhood turned upside-down like a wrinkled, every-day dress. Still she straightens the bric-a-brac displayed on Grandma’s metal hospital-room dresser. She dusts the large-number clock and calendar, the ceramic bird figurines, and the family photographs in pretty silver frames. Mom hopes these familiarities will kindle Grandma’s memory.
But Grandma’s memory sparks only randomly.
“Everett, where have you been?” she asks, impatiently and in a girlish voice. Everett is her brother. He died of emphysema sixteen years ago.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” Mom says. “I need to talk to the nurses. Sit, keep your Grandma company.” She gestures toward the dull green vinyl bedside chair as she shuffles the weight of her responsibility through the doorway.
Grandma stares at me, silently. I stare back, uncomfortable, unsure of what to say. I haltingly reach for her hand. The dry skin crinkles at my touch, like a delicate handmade paper that is too fine for any real use. Blood surges through the veins that snake just below the crust of her crepe forearm.
Not so long ago these hands held me firmly as I struggled against a face-washing.
“Grandma, it’s me, Jackson,” I peep, bird-like. I am overly cautious with this familiar yet strange character.
“Can we go to the pond, Everett? Take me to the pond,” she coos. “Mama says I can wade if you watch out for me.”
“Grandma, look at me.” I try to sound gruff, authoritarian, but my voice breaks and comes out a pleading child’s. She looks anyway, and smiles.
“I love you, Everett.”
“I love you, too, Rose,” I answer automatically, impulsively. Alzheimer’s blurs the roles and I follow suit. Grandma chats as a ten-year-old girl and I listen as her older brother, and even though I can’t comprehend the medical complexities that relegate her to this reality, we meet here.
For half an hour, I visit her world, until her chatter dwindles and her fingers flutter in mine. She naps, peacefully, such as a girl who has spent the afternoon with her brother might nap. I rise to leave but as I cross the threshold to the hallway, I hear the child’s voice behind me.
“Good night, Everett. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Grandma.”
(The above essay was previously published in Temenos, the literary journal of the University of Central Michigan, under the name “A Wilting Rose”, May, 2007.)
There is no way I can write about Roses without mourning the loss of my beloved Grandma Rose and my beautiful mother, Shirley. Roses, for me, conjure up all kinds of vivid memories of these two, and like the emotional wreck I often am, I sometimes cry. Not to worry, dear readers, they are as often tears of joy as they are tears of sadness. I was blessed in so many ways.
It is not only me who has this visceral response to roses: all of my friends, when the flower of love is brought up, tilt their head to one side and get a distant look to their eyes. And then they commence reminiscing about their father’s rose garden or their grandmother’s favorite white rose or the red roses draped over the casket at their boyfriend’s funeral or the beautiful lavender roses at their first wedding. Roses, it seems, hold a prominent place in our cumulative memory, especially when associated with those we love, whether that be our biological families or our chosen families
The Wyoming farmhouse I grew up in housed a lot of people who were biological family – seven brothers, when all were present. And three parents: my father, the disciplinarian; my wonderful mother, the counselor; and my maternal grandmother, Rose Mowell, a hybrid of both approaches. Grandma Rose didn’t physically live with us, but she was present in my life most days, and was just as much a force in my development as either of my parents – more so than my father, truth be told.
It was Grandma Rose who chugged up our unpaved lane every Sunday in her lemon yellow 1952 Chevrolet Bel Air Coupe, first making sure we were in our Sunday best, then checking our fingernails and behind our ears for cleanliness, and finally giving us each a nickel for the collection plate before driving the lot of us to church. Not just Sunday School, but church – as in all-day First Baptist Church. We started off respectable, but soon enough it was yawn, yawn, fidget, yawn. Then we got a stern pinch from Grandma Rose, and we were once again all good posture and dutiful attention.
As you may have noted from other chapters, “the Baptist word” didn’t “stick” in my case, no matter how hell-bent Grandma was on ensuring that my soul was saved. However, what did stick with me were the day-to-day examples of genuine loyalty, gentle kindness, hard-headed perseverance, and the dedicated work ethic that both my grandma and my mother exhibited, easily, without effort. It was just who they were, naturally.
Being the sissy boy of the bunch, I was most often to be found in the kitchen with Mom and Grandma, or, if we were at Grandma’s house “in town” instead of on the farm, in her garden tending the flowers with her. In reality, although I lived a life surrounded primarily by men, it was these two wonderful women I identified with most. It was my mother and my grandmother who molded with their strong country hands my budding persona. I credit them with teaching me how to be me.
Both of my parents accepted who and what I was, and gave their approval. I believe my Grandma Rose might have, had she lived long enough to see my contented life, even though she was of a different time and culture. Regardless, the love I still feel for her, and the love I know she felt for me, could never have been diminished.
My father’s family lived in other parts of the country, and rarely visited. We can color them gone, out of the picture. But my mother’s family was local, and we were entwined in the way that rural, extended families are. We saw them often, all except for my mother’s brother, Uncle Glenn, who lived abroad and married a Bolivian woman. Uncle Glenn and Aunt Flora Linda, very exotic in mid-century Wyoming, visited each summer, bringing with them my beautiful cousin Carla Marie with her pure Latina complexion and gorgeous dark hair. I maintained an innocent and unspoken crush on Carla Marie throughout childhood, until puberty and hormones arrived and her crush was shoved aside by not-quite-so-innocent crushes I developed on various boys.
To this day I believe it is a direct result of Carla Marie’s early influence that I have such a weakness for Latin men.
In the small town environment of my childhood, where all kinds of social ties were easily maintained, I took for granted the concept of “family” connections. But Grandma Rose kept note of the jumble of intermingling, of marriages and births and deaths, and could connect the dots and prove to me that I was related by blood or marriage to just about anyone in our tiny community. Grandma Rose knew the value of family. She remembered who begat who and who married who and who was whose third cousin twice removed.
The family of roses, the plant, is entirely a different story. The truth is, I need a Grandma Rose in order to comprehend their genealogy. It is just a tiny bit bizarre that this flower, which is so often linked to poignant memories of family, has such a convoluted and commingled history that it is all but impossible to trace the lineage of any single cultivar. And it is no help that the reference materials are packed with conflicting information. What some books classify as a hybrid perpetual rose, others classify as a Bourbon. How is the home gardener to be certain, when even the rose experts can’t agree? Still, in a general way, it is possible to follow the basic progression of rose variety development (most of which, it is noted, occurred in France and China). Deep breath, and, in a nutshell…
…prior to the eighteenth century, there were two distinct types of cultivated roses: the European and the Oriental. The European varieties, of which there are thousands of cultivars, these roses having been tended since the days of ancient Rome, have certain traits in common. This is largely due to the purposes for which they were historically grown. They are blessed with an unforgettable perfume (rose attar), more powerful than most people accustomed to the modern hybrids even realize is possible. This made them the key ingredient in potpourri, or the “rotten pot” as it was known – an ugly name for such a beautiful purpose. European roses were developed primarily for scent, secondarily for show.
There was also a third purpose. These western varieties, which bloom only once per summer, also bear large, red, orange, or black rose hips, or seed pods, which have been utilized throughout civilized history for two primary purposes. In a culinary sense, rose hips are used to make jams, jellies, soups, marmalades, syrups, pies, breads, and wines. They have also historically been used medicinally. The hips (or haws, as they are sometimes called) of the Dog Rose (Rosa canina) and Japanese Rose (Rosa rugosa) have the highest concentration of Vitamin C of any plant material known – higher than any citrus fruit.
These traits of strong perfume, a single blooming period per summer, and edible rose hips give the European roses a recognizable kinship with the wild roses, and, indeed, they bear a marked physical similarity. It is said that even if the petals are multiplied a hundredfold, they still resemble the flowers of wild roses. And like wild roses, these ones are as hardy as rocks, weather and disease resistant, lasting forever and often growing as big as trees.
Oh, but I love the wild roses. There are few things more spectacular or meaningful to the Queen Gardener.
Along the lower elevations of Shell Creek and other Northern Wyoming waterways, the Wyoming wild roses (more formally called Woods Rose (Rosa woodsii)), erupt with fragrant, flattened, pastel pink blooms every June. When I was a child and throughout my turbulent teen years, my mother and I made elaborate excuses to get away from everyone else to treat ourselves to long, special, country road drives, in order to bear witness to their glory. It was our secret, an annual mother-son mutual admiration bonding outing that lives on in my memory: just the two of us, the wild roses, and intimate, heartfelt conversation.
The flowers of the Wyoming wild rose are single, meaning there is only one row of petals – five, to be exact – surrounding a bright yellow center. Although it has once again been several years since I last visited Wyoming, since my Mother’s funeral, in fact, I am confident these beauties have continued to burst forth every June. When in bloom, their scent overtakes the mid-summer breeze and the flowers, as I experience them, are more gorgeous than any of the over-exaggerated hybridized and cultivated rose varieties. Pink, simple, and delicate.
I love them so much that more than once during my adolescence, I dug up a few of the young shoots and transplanted them to the farm, where they immediately withered and died. My mother gently and lovingly explained to me that some wild things simply don’t like to be cultivated. In later years, following one miserable failure of a relationship or another, she would repeat the same words.
Wild roses are laden with symbolism. In ancient Rome, those in charge placed a wild rose on the door of any room where a secret or otherwise confidential discussion was taking place. The subsequent phrase “sub rosa”, or “under the rose”, used world-wide by contemporary government “agencies” and their attendant legal types, means to keep a secret or act covertly. In fact, in many Catholic churches, the confessional booths are decorated with carved details of five-petalled wild rose blossoms to symbolize that whatever happens in the booth stays in the booth.
The wild roses of Wyoming are not secretive at all, however. There is nothing covert about them. They grow in huge, impenetrable brambles that provide a safe haven to many little feathered and furry friends, as their arching, entwined red canes are armed with a staggering number of prickles. They provide a sensually-scented fortress for our lowland wildlife friends.
Here’s one interesting tidbit, and then I swear to eventually get back to the boring stuff: roses do not, technically, have thorns. Their armor is prickles, or outgrowths of the epidermis. A thorn, like that of the citrus or Russian Olive trees, is a specialized branch or twig. Prickle and thorn are not the same, but this doesn’t matter, I say. To be stabbed by either hurts like hell! Pardon my French.
When Grandma Rose heard me swear as a child – most likely a word I picked up from my older brothers and didn’t quite understand – she dragged me by one arm to her always-sparkling bathroom and placed a bar of bath soap in my mouth until it foamed and burned – to clean out the dirty words, she said. At times I ran to my mother to woefully protest, but my mother just waggled one finger at me and, with a simple shrug of her shoulders, reminded me that it was my duty to not only meet her and my father’s standards, but Grandma Rose’s as well.
After a certain period of tearful foaming, when the punishment meted out matched the seriousness of my sin, Grandma Rose softened and allowed me to wash away the Lux-tasting nastiness with cool water. Eventually, as she always did, Grandma Rose forgave me with a hug and a handful of the cookies she dutifully baked every Saturday morning to ensure that little hands reaching into her Aunt Jemima cookie jar didn’t come up empty. She produced only two varieties, but to this day peanut butter cookies with fork prints on the top or chocolate oatmeal no-bake cookies are nearly as potent for me as roses in conjuring memories.
Finally Grandma sent me scampering outside – unattended (!), as those were more innocent times – to contemplate the garden and my no-longer-filthy mouth.
But back to the roses – to the budding European vs. Oriental dilemma. The Oriental roses began arriving in Europe during the eighteenth century aboard ships from China loaded with goods from that part of the world, including tea. There is some question as to whether they were given the moniker “Tea Roses” because of this association, or because of a tea-like scent. Personally, I have never smelled tea on these roses, but I am hardly a qualified judge. I’ve never been a fan of tea: I’m as American as they come, preferring instead to start my day with several cups of strong coffee.
Grandma Rose, while primarily of German ancestry, was also as American as they come. She got me jacked up on coffee at a very early age. I have memories, almost photographic in detail, of pulling a chair up to the mottled gray Formica and chrome dinette set in her tiny, cluttered kitchen, at no more than six or seven years of age. There I enjoyed copious amounts of the previously-mentioned cookies dipped in a coffee, evaporated milk and sugar mixture (so much sugar it was syrup, really) served in a chipped beige porcelain mug. Meanwhile, Grandma Rose and my mother would make “grown up talk”. I pretended not to listen, but learned oh-so-much about the life of adults.
I’ve since stopped using the sugar, and have switched to 2% milk. My aging body has slowed down and doesn’t burn the fats and sugars as it once did. But I still enjoy my coffee. And two of my all-time favorite possessions are my grandmother’s battered stove-top coffee percolator and the Aunt Jemima cookie jar from her kitchen. After Grandma passed, my mother saved them both for me because she “just knew” I would appreciate them. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
But, again, back to the roses. The Orientals, or Tea Roses as everyone soon came to call them, were shockingly beautiful to western rose growers, with their impossible colors, their beautiful shapes, and their ever-blooming habit. The breeders of the Orientals grew them solely for their looks, and cared not a whit for any other trait.
The true Tea Roses are tropical plants, not hardy outside of southern climes, and that was their primary fault relative to growing in this “new world”. They have no gene to alert them to approaching inclement weather, and will not go dormant. They go on blooming and blooming until the first freeze, and then they die. Their second fault is the lack of rose attar, meaning they don’t really smell like roses. Their third fault? They are susceptible to every known rose issue including blight, insects, rust, mildew, cankers and black spot, to name just a few. The list is virtually endless. They are a difficult lot, something like the African Violet: too beautiful for words, too high maintenance for reality.
It was only a matter of time until some bright soul thought to hybridize these two varieties in hopes of getting the best of both – the hardiness and the perfume of the European varieties and the ever-blooming quality and refined form of the Orientals.
Quite like mixing the right amounts of blue and red to come up with the perfect shade of lavender.
The funny thing is, while rose enthusiasts were diligently trying to make this occur, it happened quite naturally, by accident! French settlers had planted the old world Damask rose (Rosa X biferia) and the Oriental rose called Old Blush (Rosa chinensis) together in hedgerows on the Ile de Bourbon in the Indian Ocean. As any living species is known to do, even on occasion the Queen Gardener himself, they mated. Seedlings produced from this idyllic tryst reached Paris about 1822, and the Bourbon roses were born. They were called “Hybrid Teas”, and they were essentially the beginning of the downfall of the old world European garden roses.
A different rose arrived on Western shores at about the same time as the Orientals, around 1837, this one from Iran. This is a rose that, somehow, again, naturally and in the wild, hybridized, with stunning results. This variety is quite appropriately named the Persian Yellow Rose (Rosa foetida persiana), a lively, bright, sunshine-yellow rose that belongs to the family of fetid roses, so named for their lack of rose perfume, replaced instead by a scent that some find disagreeable (the Merriam-Webster definition of fetid is “having a heavy, offensive smell”).
This hardy, wildling specimen was a favorite of the westward-migrating American settlers, as it is disease and weather resistant and transports easily. To this day, it can be found growing feral and unattended all across our country – in rural cemeteries, at the site of abandoned homesteads, and in the overgrown municipal parks of old-time settled villages.
Grandma Rose had a large Persian Yellow rose bush in the corner of her front yard, and it bloomed once every summer in vivid, bee-covered profusion. To this day, a yellow rose can bring a tear of joy to my eyes.
Funny thing: other than standing back in appreciation, I don’t remember Grandma Rose providing much care to this rose bush. I don’t remember her fertilizing, spraying, pruning, watering, or in any way nurturing that rose, which heroically withstood both the arctic Wyoming winters and the desert-like summers. For all I know, some forty-plus year later, alone and abandoned, that rose bush still squats on the corner of that lot in Greybull, Wyoming, blooming on cue every summer as though Grandma Rose and I were there to adore it.
I also don’t remember its scent being anything close to fetid. As I remember it, the fragrance was slightly licorice-like, and the foliage itself had a definite apple scent. I found it to be most agreeable. One man’s fetid is another man’s licorice, I am lead to believe.
As the Persian Yellow is wont to do, Grandma’s bush sent out countless suckers every spring. In fact, the only rose tending I remember Grandma offering that bush was the annual digging out of the suckers. I transplanted several to various locations on the farm and they always took root with ease, beautifying the fencerows and orchard and surviving all the harshness that being a wildling threw at them, including one pasture bush which was routinely eaten to ground level by apparently steel-toothed horses.
Motherly advice aside, it seems there are wild things that do, indeed, take to domestication.
But back to the roses.
We left their family history at the time that the Europeans had been commingled with the Orientals, resulting in the first Hybrid Teas, the Bourbons. Oh, if only well-enough had been left alone. The Bourbons possess all of the positive traits of both parents (like Grandma Rose!). They are at once voluptuous and delicate, heavenly scented and perfectly formed roses, as if they had been pressed into a teacup. They are hardier than the Orientals and ever-blooming, unlike the Europeans.
However, as if we all didn’t know, well enough is never left alone.
In each succeeding step of rose development and hybridization, a loss was registered along with whatever gain was achieved. In the 1920’s, the Hybrid Teas were crossed with the Polyanthas to make Floribundas, and then in 1954, the Floribundas were re-crossed with Hybrid Teas to come up with Grandifloras. None of these have any perfume so to speak of. They are susceptible to every rose disease that comes along, and grow on vines so unwieldy that the average small garden cannot accommodate them.
Oh, so many things the Queen Gardener could say about things too large to accommodate, but these things should be left to the reader’s imagination.
Imagine, if you will, a stout German farm boy . . . never mind.
Those conducting the early rose breeding programs had two obvious choices: go with the European values of hardiness and perfume, or with the Oriental value of delicate/difficult beauty. The Orientals won that battle, and to this day rose breeders continue to take that approach, developing unusual, sometimes shocking and unnatural new colors and shapes and continuing, bit by bit, to breed all perfume and hardiness out of modern roses. Such is our loss.
In recent years, however, it seems that the heritage roses have been making a comeback, based on the number of varieties available for commercial purchase. But this is probably not in time for the average backyard or urban gardener. The bushes are huge and the fragrant blooms make only a brief appearance once each summer. Without sufficient space to camouflage their gigantic barrenness for the remainder of the year, these relics are relegated to a life spent in large-scale formal rose gardens and conservatories.
Sorrowfully, the rose breeders’ drive to hybridize and modify didn’t stop there. On the other end of the spectrum they have developed the miniatures, true hybridized roses which grow to no more than one foot and come in any color and blossom configuration a gardener desires. They are truly a potted plant, but here’s the problem: they are advertised as border or bedding plants. However, like most hybridized roses (except, possibly, the Persian Yellow and Bourbons), they must be deadheaded, sprayed, fertilized, checked for blight and spots and bugs, and pruned . . . all from a position of laying horizontal on the ground, I am assuming. This Queen Gardener is much, much too old to be lying on his side in the garden caring for something that, in reality, isn’t going to thrive anyway. I can’t even keep them alive in their pots!
Still, every single time I pass the display at the nursery or, even worse, the local grocery store, I am compelled to purchase one. They are so adorable in their miniature-ness. This time, I think to myself, every time, it will last.
It never does, always succumbing to a quick demise within days.
Some roses, given my experience with the suckers of the Yellow Persian, require very little from us, yet still survive. These are like my Grandma Rose, who migrated to Wyoming from Missouri, lived in a tent on a river bottom until appropriate housing could be arranged, then put down roots and raised her five children despite her husband’s leaving and enough depression-era adversity to make rose blight look like child’s play. These ones are meant to thrive; others, not so much. They quickly depart, like every miniature I’ve every purchased.
If I had endless garden space, I would attempt to grow the old world garden roses. They are hardier, less labor-intensive, and generally present fewer problems for the gardener. Besides reminding me of better times passed, they are, quite frankly, much less likely to turn up dead. They fairly well care for themselves, and it is this Queen Gardener’s opinion that the brief bloom every summer is worth the months of nothing if for no other reason than their heavenly perfume.
However, the moderns, for all their demands, are sometimes so beautiful in form and color that they cannot be passed over – something like my obsession with the miniatures.
Like fetid vs. licorice, one man’s pleasure is another man’s pain.
Whichever rose you choose, there are three basic rules for its initial planting. Follow them, and you might (might!) be rewarded with blooms. They will be perfumed, on huge vines, and show up only once per summer if you chose an old world garden rose, or relatively unscented but colorful and constant should you choose one of the modern hybrids. Regardless of your liking, the three rules are:
1. Buy quality bushes, preferably locally grown. If that is not a possibility, look for a reliable mail order nursery and know your hardiness zone. Plant in the early spring. If you are planting bare-root roses, make sure that they have been soaked in a bucket of water for up to 24 hours before planting. Remember that once a rose is established, with proper care and a dose of good luck, it can last at least ten to fifteen years; much longer if it is one of the old world, European, varieties. It is best to be certain the rose is in a location where it will be welcome in years to come.
2. Plant the bush where it will receive at least six hours of good light in well drained soil in a location where it is at least minimally protected from strong winds.
3. Feed a little (with 6% nitrogen, 8% phosphorus and 6% potassium), but not until the second year, and then only feed once or twice a growing season. Water a lot (A LOT!) until the bush is established. After that, unless drought sets in or you do, truly, live in a desert, the bush will probably be happy with standard landscape watering.
I know, dear reader: that’s really seven or more rules compressed to look like three. But trust me, just like any relationship, it’s not quite as simple as presented, and not quite as impossible as it seems. Of course, you may also need to deadhead, spray, shape, contain, worry over, winterize, pray about, and light candles for (or in memory of), but the three(ish) basics hold true and many a beautiful rose bush has been long-lived because of them.
But, wait! What does one do with that rose after it is established and threatening to engulf the entire back yard, prickles and all? Well, let me give you a few more basics (very basic) about pruning, but first a story.
Experience has taught me that these are no steadfast rules to pruning roses. I once had a boyfriend who was obsessive about pruning. He was obsessive about many things, but for now we will just leave it at pruning the roses.
Any summer evening he could be found in the back yard of his rental home that came complete with a variety of heritage and modern roses, shears in hand, cutting away that which he – no rose expert! – deemed undesirable. Mind you, eventually it was I who deemed him undesirable and subsequently snipped him out of my life, but then that’s another story, entirely. We are discussing rose pruning, not Queen Gardener sanity-preserving pruning. The morale of this tale is, he clipped and clipped and clipped, with not even a basic knowledge of what to cut and what not to cut, and every summer the roses bloomed, regardless.
Should you develop an obsessive need to prune, here are a few basic tips to help you keep your snippiness in check.
If growing the miniatures, and they live longer than the seven days I am accustomed to, just give the entire bush a “hair cut”. Just a few inches all around. If yours is a climbing rose, just affix it where you want it to grow and prune very gently, without disturbing the main laterals, as best you can so that it will accommodate the space you have provided it. As an aside, do you know that they, the climbers, don’t really climb? They lean. And it is your job, as rose-tender-primario, to “affix” them here and there so they won’t come a’ tumbling down at the first robust gust of wind.
If it’s a rambler you are pruning, my advice is: don’t. Just let it ramble. In Denver I once bought a house with a lengthy side yard fence completely buried by rambling roses. Around the middle of June, these bushes produced a beautiful, moderately-scented and pastel pink bloom, small in size but grouped in clusters of four or five blossoms all along the length of the gracefully arching canes. They transformed the fence they leaned over into a veritable pink snowdrift. I never once pruned them other than to remove dead or damaged wood and they rewarded me every June with that fencerow of pink. Stunning.
If your rose has finished blooming, and like many urban gardeners you need to save space, prune with caution. Again, don’t prune anything until after the blooms have fallen, and then remove dead wood and weak or stunted new growth first. Then, if pruning an upright variety, shape appropriately but try not to remove more than just about one quarter of the top of each upright cane. And always cut just above a “bud eye”, the visible node above a leaf steam or branch where new growth originates.
With that scant advice, I leave you to tend this flower long known to symbolize so many different things in so many different cultures, from a name for the colors pink and red in several languages, to English rugby football, to royalty and death and family. Foremost, though, roses are a universal symbol of love, beauty and virtue, as illustrated by their sacred role to the Goddess Isis, whose rose appears in the classical allegorical novel, The Golden Ass.
Oh, what a Queen Gardener wouldn’t do for a Golden Ass.
But that longing aside, the rose of Isis is described in the novel as “the sweet rose of reason and virtue”, and eventually this rose, through love and devotion, saves the hero Lucius from his belabored and bewitched life as a donkey. I am not golden, and certainly not an ass, but to my dying breath I will believe it was my sweet Grandma Rose’s and my beautiful Mother Shirley’s “reason and virtue” that saved me from a life that, quite frankly, could have ended up a belabored disaster.
These are the women who taught me to be true to myself, to honor both my biological and chosen families and to uphold my personal faith. They taught me to keep my posture upright and my mouth clean, to work hard and love harder. They taught me to appreciate the life I have been given. They taught me to take the time to smell the roses. The ancients may have linked the rose to their goddesses, Isis, Aphrodite and Venus, but the Queen Gardener will always link roses to his personal goddesses: Grandma Rose and Mom Shirley.
May there be abundant sweet roses where they are now, Wyoming wild roses for my mother and Persian Yellows for Grandma Rose. And there, in the serenity of the roses, may their God rest their remarkable souls in peace.